Dear America: You’re Doing It Wrong (#Ferguson edition)

According to my computer, I wrote this in 2014 — on Christmas Day.  Huh.


Hey there!  Do you have opinions about what’s happened/happening in Ferguson?  Of course you do!  You’re a person.  Perhaps even a person who cares about peace and justice!  Maybe you could use some extra ammunition for all of your Facebook arguments with people who think “posting links to Ted Nugent’s point of view” is a helpful tactic.  Maybe you’ve been posting links to Ted Nugent’s point of view (about anything, really).  Either way, let’s dive in to a hot topic and call bullshit on a lot of bullshit!


Bullshit One: “Mike Brown was shot in the front.  Therefore, his shooting was justified.”


This particular piece of bullshit has gotten a lot of airing among defenders of Officer Darren Wilson (with headlines like “shocking” and “conclusive”).  But guess what?  It’s also bullshit!  Fun fact: the direction a person is facing when fatally shot by a police officer has next to nothing to do with whether or not that officer will be charged with anything.  Front, back, side — if a cop can justify a “reasonable threat,” then it pretty much flies.  And if someone is shot in the back, then that means that they were running from the police, and the only people who ever run from police are criminals/the guilty (FACT!*); therefore, by cop-logic (or at least the tortured cop-logic deployed in these situations), someone running from the cops can still constitute a “reasonable threat” to public safety and deserve to be shot.  Even fatally.


There’s a reason that very, very, very, very, very, very, very few lawyers take police brutality cases.  The facts of the case hardly matter.  And speaking of…


Bullshit Two: “Mike Brown robbed somebody!  Therefore, his shooting was justified.”


Mike Brown may have robbed a convenient store before his death and stole some cigarillos.  Whether this is true or not has yet to be established, which is why it’s bullshit — yes, a grainy security video shows someone who strongly resembles Brown, but the store owner (aka the robbery victim) has said it wasn’t him.  Really, what this particular bit of bullshit demonstrates is how few facts around Brown’s death have been actually established, which is why a trial would have been a very good thing.  Determining the facts of a case is a major part of why trials happen at all!  It’s not why grand juries are convened, so at this point social media is basically carrying out the investigation which the St Louis county prosecutor was too lazy/corrupt/racist to do himself.  You know, like he’s paid to. 


Bullshit Three: Anyone cares what you think about the protests/riots.


Are you Pharrell Williams, Charles Barkley, or Ted Nugent?  Shut up.  Are you posting memes of Martin Luther King with the words “I respect this…” alongside pictures from Ferguson saying “not this”?  Stop.  Stop now.  Please, for the love of god, shut up.


Whether you’re riot-shaming, respectability-politicking, or just straight-up racist (thanks Ted!), all you’re actually doing is refocusing the conversation away from the very real injuries suffered by black Americans to whether or not their reaction is up to your standards.  And you know what?  Your standards are complete, utter, highest-order bullshit.  Of course you respect MLK now, and if we’re being real, fifty years from now today’s protestors might very well be regarded as freedom fighters — but in the meantime, asking them to live up to the best, most sanitized version of one of the greatest non-violent leaders in all of world history is fucking absurd.  Can you imagine telling anyone in your regular life that you can’t respect them because they’re not acting like MLK?  No.  Because that would a ridiculous, arbitrary, and impossible standard to live up to.  (If you don’t believe me, try it!  Tell a coworker that you won’t respect them until they live in the image of MLK, or Gandhi, or Mother Teresa.  See what happens.  See if you get punched.) 


If you want to have an impact on the tone of the protests, get out in the streets yourself.  Otherwise, shut. the. fuck. up. with this line of bullshit.


Bullshit Four: Cops are rational actors.


This bit of bullshit is one of the most endemic and problematic, because it’s what shields cops from the consequences of their fatal mistakes.  But let’s say for a second that it’s generally true — we can even put race aside for a couple sentences.  Let’s say that generally rational, good cops sometimes misjudge the situation and kill unarmed, innocent twelve-year-olds (#Cleveland edition), because they thought such a kid constituted a “reasonable threat.”


Well, reasonably, that is bullshit.  Reasonably, we must conclude that any cop who does such a thing is not particularly capable of accurate threat assessment; reasonably, we must conclude that such a cop is not very good at one of the core competencies involved in cop-hood.  Reasonably, if chronic tardiness is enough to get someone fired, mistakenly ending the life of an innocent human being whom you have sworn to protect should at the very least cost a cop his or her job. 


Reasonably, if typical citizens can be imprisoned for manslaughter when they accidentally kill someone, agents of the state — authorized to use lethal force only for the protection of the polity — must be held to a higher standard of behavior.


I’ve met many perfectly nice cops in my life.  I’ve also been on the receiving end of a completely arbitrary and essentially purposeless exercise of police authority: it’s a trivial comparison, but when my friend Smo and I were arrested for a curfew violation, it had very little to do with any meaningful law enforcement and much more to do with a new, young cop bullying two vulnerable targets to satisfy his own ego.  Again, it’s trivial in comparison to the stories of Mike Brown or Tamir Rice, but most white girls — indeed, most white people — don’t ever experience police bullying, even on such an inconsequential level, unless they choose to (namely, by participating in justice-oriented protests).  It’s not something that the vast, vast majority of white people ever consider as an everyday possibility, but the truth is that cops can be dicks, and when a cop is being a dick to you, you’re pretty much at their mercy. 


Which is to say: the greatest bullshit of all is people claiming that they would, or would have, acted differently — if they were at the protests, if they were Tamir Rice, if they were Mike Brown, if they were Trayvon Martin.  Are you Martin Luther King right now, today, in your regular life?  No?  Then why do you think you could transform into Martin Luther King when faced with a gun?


We all know how that story ends, anyway.  As others have pointed out, MLK still got shot in the head.


Bullshit The Fifth: It’s just a few bad apples!


Are the majority of cops basically decent human beings?  Probably, but then again, the vast majority of humanity are basically decent human beings; nothing more and nothing less.  Sociopaths and heroes are exceedingly rare, and you don’t have to be a sociopath to kill people (especially in America). 


I put this one down because I just couldn’t stand to keep wading into the superheated discussion (and yes, I am aware that stepping away from stuff like this is absolutely white privilege at work).  Also, apparently I wrote this on Christmas, and, y’know, that’s a pretty busy — and generally happy! — day for me…

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